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Embodying the Spirit:
Understanding the Meaning of Asana

by Judith Hanson Lasater

 

Editor's Note: With the emphasis on asana practice here is a great article from a well known teacher that explains reasons we do asana beyond the physical and asana as meditation.

 

What drew me to the practice of asana was an intuitive feeling that these movements were not just “stretching”; they seemed to have some greater connection with my soul. It was only later after years of training that I began to learn the deep symbolism each asana represents. I now believe that each asana represents an aspect of myself and as such offers me a powerful doorway inward. Thus for many people the practice of asana can become more than a physical act; it can be a form of moving meditation.

 

The word “asana” is Sanskrit and is actually the plural form; the correct word for one pose is “asan”. However in English we tend to use “asana” as singular and “asanas” as plural even though this word does not exist in Sanskrit. Whichever word we use, asana are virtually as ancient as civilization itself. In fact, there are carvings dated from 3000 BCE which show figures sitting in the lotus pose.(1) It is sometimes reported that each asana was created or “emerged” when a “rishi” or “wise forest dweller” spontaneously moved into an asana during deep meditation. Asana both reflect and are named for animals and objects as well as being named after sages from the Hindu tradition. Instructions for the practice of specific asana can be found in such ancient Indian source books such as the Siva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita as well as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

 

Paradoxically, in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, generally considered the most well-known source book on the wider practice of yoga, no specifics of practice are given and asana is only mentioned in three verses, chapter II v. 29, v. 46 and v 47. Patanjali presents asana as the third step or rung in his ladder of practice after the ethical precepts (yama) and prescribed practices (niyama), and apparently expects the disciple to explore more about asana on his/her own. More interesting to me than specific practice techniques however, are two other ideas about asana. First, that asana is both a spiritual practice all its own and secondly, that the practice of asana can beneficially effect our relationship to living a spiritual life in the modern world, far from the protected ashrams and retreats of ancient India.

 

In our Western culture of the late twentieth century asana has taken on a different face from what Patanjali would probably recognize. As asana practice has become more known and accepted it has permeated many corners of society. Yoga asana can be seen in the slickest fashion magazines as well as...

 

To read the full article click HERE.

 


 

About the Author

 

Judith Hanson Lasater has taught yoga since 1971. She holds a doctorate in East-West psychology and is a physical therapist. She is president of the California Yoga Teachers Association, and serves on the advisory boards of Yoga Journal and Healing Lifestyles and Spas. Her yoga training includes study with B. K. S. Iyengar in India and the United States. She teaches yoga classes and trains yoga teachers in kinesiology, yoga therapeutics, and the Yoga Sutra in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also gives workshops throughout the United States, and has taught in Australia, Bolivia, Canada, England, France, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Peru, and Russia.

 

Currently, Judith is consulting on four studies being conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These studies focus on the use of restorative yoga to reduce hot flashes in menopausal women, to reduce metabolic syndrome, to reduce anxiety during drug rehabilitation, and for women in treatment for breast cancer.

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